Three things needed to happen for the Ducks to win against Chicago Saturday night. Their coach needed to be smarter than the Blackhawks’ Quenneville. Their goalie had to be at least solid if not great. And their captain had to play better than he had, you could even say better than the other side’s leader, Jonathan Toews. If they weren’t, a loss was predictable.
The Ducks were down 2-0 by the end of the first period, and it was because they had lost on all three counts.
Coach Boudreau, with the choice to start whoever he wanted, put Kesler’s line (with Beleskey and Silfverberg) out to begin the game. Quenneville put his big line, the reunited Toews and Kane with Brandon Saad. Boudreau didn’t put his first line out until 18:18 left in the period. And they stayed out too long after a missed attempt to force a turnover at the half wall in the Chicago zone, and ended up getting scored on. That goal came at 2:23, scored by Toews. He and his group were out for the second shift.
What does this tell you? That Boudreau failed to dictate the matchups, letting his home ice advantage go away. This in the shadow of the captain, Getzlaf, having come out in the press and saying he hadn’t been good in game 6 in Chicago and would be better come game 7. It was like he was asking to get out there, toe to toe with Toews, like he did with Joe Thornton in the playoffs a couple of years ago. That might not have ended in an actual fight, but it would have allowed Getzlaf and his group to show their resolve.
And as likely as not, it would have forced Quenneville to hold back on putting his first line out and instead play his checkers, at least for a shift to get the feel for how well Getzlaf had his legs. He would have found out that he didn’t have them at all. But the Ducks wouldn’t have been down an early goal.
What ever happened to starting your best guys and letting them prove their mettle? After the game, I spoke with a Ducks insider who told me that my instincts were exactly right. “It’s like try to climb Mount Everest in rubber boots,” were his words about the Ducks’ start. They went down a second goal, also by Toews but on the power play, at 11:55.
So you’re also starting to see the answer to which captain was better there. When all was said and done, Toews had the two goals, and Getzlaf one assist, which he got when Anaheim made the game 4-2 in period three. It was the second assist. More on the goal in a moment.
The other question above is how well Frederik Andersen would do in net. He let in five goals on 26 shots, which put him in pretty dismal shape, numbers-wise, but the story is more than that. Andersen played OK. Some speculated after the game that perhaps he was tired, including the coach. When the goalie himself was asked about it after, he denied it, of course.
The first goal came on a shot from the point with Chicago all set up in the Anaheim zone. There was a rebound right in front, and Toews stuffed it in. The problem on the goal was a tired and laggardly group of forwards who were in a box so tight it looked like they were on the PK. Then again, nobody was close enough to the rebound to sweep it away. The goalie gets a pass on this one.
The second goal was one that an elite goalie should have. The Blackhawks were passing the puck around and sent it out to the point on the PP. It went to Toews up high near the blueline, and he winged a wrister that rose as it traveled, going in the top corner. Andrew Shaw was right in front, in behind the Anaheim defense, and in the blue paint, so Andersen was hindered, but there was no interference. What could the goalie have done? Asked for his space back, and gotten out to cut the angle down that little bit more. But he didn’t. 2-0 on a handful of shots.
The next one, in period two, he had no chance on. Kane passed it to Saad, who had an empty side. That one takes us back to the “how did the captain play?” question, though. On that one, Getzlaf’s line was on, but they were nowhere close to covering Kane. And, they had let the puck come out of the corner. So put the goal down to them.
But by this point, early in P2, Andersen had started to find himself. He made several spectacular saves to keep the game 3-0, including on a mini-breakaway by Kane which Andersen swallowed in his mid-section.
The Chicago fourth goal should not have counted. Richards shot the puck and there was a rebound, out to Hossa. He skated into the puck, making what looked an awful lot like a distinct kicking motion. The review was short and the league called it a goal. Not the netminder’s fault. It was 4-0.
Where was Getzlaf? He finally started to show up in period two. By this point, Quenneville of Chicago had decided to play his best—Kane, Toews, and Saad, against Getzlaf and Perry. They were, due to Boudreau’s line mixing, now playing with Matt Beleskey. But after the second period turned to the third, Maroon was back with them, and they produced the second Anaheim goal to make it 4-2 with 11:36 gone in P3.
That gets us back to coaching. As said, Boudreau flubbed the opening and cost the team an early goal. He then steadied the course in P1, but in P2, he went all ragmattack on the lines, switching up all but the fourth.
Beleskey came up to line one. Fleischmann, who hadn’t even played in game 6, went to line two. And Maroon dropped to line three. This appeared to work, as the Ducks controlled the puck quite a bit in the frame, and especially from minutes two to eight.
Kesler was especially impressive. Early, there was a slap-pass by Fowler that he deflected. This on the same shift where the new Kesler line dug a puck out of the corner and flung it dangerously across the goal crease. Thompson sent one to the front for Sekac, who failed to reach it. Silfverberg had the puck in front with his back to the net forever and finally backhanded it and saw a crowd scramble for it. Fleischmann, from the point, slapped the puck and Kesler deflected it. Thompson got the puck in the slot and floated it over the net. Fleischmann burst through the middle of the ice and was tripped.
And finally, Kesler scored to make it 4-1. It was from the goal line. He shot the puck so fast that it went in and out, but the Ducks celebrated and after a brief hesitation, the whistle blew.
So it was a period of line mixing, and it worked. Strike one up for Boudreau. Of course, you have to qualify “worked” there, because the Ducks were down one more goal after two periods, 4-1, than they had been after one.
But in P3 they hammered away some more, and they got to 4-2 before halfway. Getzlaf gets most of the credit for that one. He deked a player at the blueline and dished to Maroon, on the right side of the slot. The winger then slid the puck over to Perry, who whacked it behind Crawford. The shots at this point were 33-23 for Anaheim.
Prior to that, down 4-1, Andersen had been playing quite well. He had made a nice leg save on Kane on a stuff attempt. He had stopped Hossa on a slapshot that came from the outside.
In short, he was good enough. But to win against the Blackhawks demanded that he be spectacular.
In fact, as this series went on, that’s what you could say about all the Ducks. They had to be outstanding, because the Blackhawks are an incredibly talented and brave team. The Ducks were average in net, average on offense from their first line, and average in coaching.
That was nowhere close to enough.
Sure, they got a late goal to make things respectable in game seven, losing 5-3. And sure, they outshot the Blackhawks 38-26, out hit them 37-15, and were even on faceoffs. But the series, after game four, wasn’t that close. In fact, it was probably lost when the Blackhawks came back late to tie game five. They would lose that one in OT, but they never trailed again.
In the end, a season where the Ducks learned to come back and win, and then learned just simply how to win commandingly, ends with a failure. Their coach can take heart that he went further than he had in the playoffs before. He can take confidence that he didn’t panic like other times and waffle on his goalie selection. But he, and the team, have to make another giant leap if they want to be post-season elite.
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Summer’s here. Beach reading? I’ve done six hockey books, from Growing Up Hockey to Facing Wayne Gretzky. Thanks for reading.